Friday’s Quick Pick: Return to a True Love

cropped-victoria-trip-7-12-101.jpgVictoria, Victoria, how well and easily I am romanced by your exceptional character, your elegance and vibrancy never losing my attention…I find myself returning to those days and nights, to your intriguing vagaries, even your more pedestrian secrets that are revealed whenever I seek you out. It has been so long since I presented these eyes and ears, this heart and spirit to the enchantment of yours. When may we meet once more? 

Wait, I am not writing a romance novel, thrusting upon you a first overtly flowery paragraph. No, I am only daydreaming about another vacation on Vancouver Island and a stay in Victoria, its crown jewel. For today I am full of reminiscences and wonders of this small land parcel between the USA and Canada. I actually restrain myself from returning there in this blog so that readers need only put up with my praises and images once a year or so. But I find I can’t wait a few more months to share a spattering of pictures from five–or six?–trips to Victoria and all which thrives there. I can hardly post enough of the sights, but here is a teaser.

It is January, after all, and it’s remained simply too cold; my legs, hands and cheeks have barely thawed from an energetic afternoon walk. I must have relief and so I reach back to more temperate weather marked by color, movement and very good food (and chocolate). Some hear the siren call of the drowsy tropics or vast glittering ski slopes. I would happily settle for Victoria another visit, and if I manage not the actual flight from my chilled urban center, at least let me linger over past enticing moments. Some places just catch and hold you in a happy state. And, honestly, I have a thing about ferries…you may note there are a few shots of the rides.

Yes, Victoria, here I come–husband in tow.

Care to join me? (Click on bottom of photos for a pop up description and also to see full photo.)

When By the Sea

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When Elle pulled up to the restaurant she had already decided she was going to eat fast and head right back to her rented cottage. The weather was rough. Rain had pummeled her car so hard it was miraculous she could follow the white stripes on the winding road.

It slackened, turned into a metered rainfall as soon as she parked. Due to fickle coastal skies, her getaway had been shaped by many languid hours by a fire in the old brick fireplace, books and wine glass, a notebook and pen. The beach had been nearly deserted early that morning so she had walked without distraction, sifting through sea detritus the storms had left behind. It was like paradise, as always. Her thriving counseling practice had kept this beach escape too long delayed. 

She gave her name to the hostess, then waited by the door with a small group of women. They circled up, intimate conversation kept low. She looked out the windowed wall below the waiting area and was lulled by the Pacific Ocean. She wondered what kind of fortune it would take to buy a beach house. Peter, her husband of sixteen years, wouldn’t even consider it; he was citified start to finish. He would rather buy a large photograph of the sea and admire the idea of being there. He enjoyed his own vacation in Seattle or Vancouver, BC twice a year. She had her coveted beach spots.

The door opened and Elle’s eye caught two wing-tipped shoes, large and scuffed. An accompanying pair were stylish flats, black patent leather with a narrow crisscross of fabric at the instep. Mr. Wing Tips strode to the desk, long black wool coat shedding raindrops. He had a hat in hand and smoothed down neat white waves. The woman beside him turned and looked into the parking lot as though longing to escape. Her iridescent teal coat warmed a complexion that reminded Elle of old ivory. The woman’s eyes, blue and slightly tilted at the outer corners, were like still pools. Her shoulders seemed weighted, as if she found being there a chore.

Mr. Wing Tips bent toward her. ‘”Is fifteen minutes a wait alright?” His voice was solicitous.

She nodded, then sat on the bench with head held up, but her arms were pulled close as if she felt crowded. The man sharpened his hat’s crease. Even sitting at ease he was self-possessed. And tall. He half-smiled down at the woman but she was looking at her shiny shoes.

Elle told herself to not pay any attention, it was rude to stare, but then admired the woman’s hair, its silvery swath picking up light that sneaked in. It was wrapped into a chignon. Not a hair had strayed. Had they been to a church function? Perhaps going to a birthday gathering later? Maybe they had visited someone in the hospital and the prognosis was poor. Elle looked away when the woman shifted and her eyes moved upwards. The hostess came back and led Elle to a table close to a perfect view of the rain-swept ocean. She ordered what she usually ate there, grilled mahi mahi and thick garlic french fires.

She thought of Peter and his concerns about her visit. It had been stormy for most of three days and nights. He’d cautioned her to not go, citing landslides, high winds and the cottage being too far, over the Coast Mountains, stated as though it was all the way to Japan. Peter worried about many things; Elle journaled about things, then forgot them. But by now he had dived into his research on Chaucer, not giving any thought to Elle and her “wilderness streak” as he insisted on calling it, every room awash in Bach concertos. If only he could appreciate what it meant to nourish one’s self with nature’s unique array of offerings. With solitude. Without garish sensory bombardment of city life. The flash and dazzle of intellectual brouhaha.

A poem that had awakened with her at dawn came from a place she had neglected a very long while. She recalled it as she sipped her water.

If by the sea winds carry love,
my arms will be translucent sails, 

take my soul to the edge of the world so
we dance with anemones, sleep with stars.

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She had no idea where that came from but her next thought was: where had the romance gone? Not the brief, fun firecracker times she and Peter experienced in college and their first years together. She could manage–had done–without the surfeit of lust. And now they respected each other’s separateness, gave each other room. But what about the deeper romance that should hold them in tandem like the natural things on earth, easy but vital like flower and earth, water and river bank? She felt a lick of sorrow creep up. She backed away from it, returned to the current moment.

The man and woman from the lobby took a table across from her. The best one by the picture window above the cliff. He helped his companion take off her shimmery coat, pulled out a chair for her, then removed his elegant coat. Cashmere, Elle thought.

“Renee, I’m to the washroom. ”

Renee nodded at him, then put chin in hand and stared out over the cliff to uproarious waves and wind-tailored trees. Her eyes closed, then widened, as  though to re-focus on a distant place without and without. Her profile was classic, like an older Grace Kelly’s: no feature too pronounced, symmetrical, with barely lined, silken fair skin. Her lips were perfect even while pursed.

Elle’s meal arrived. She ate slowly, enjoying surreptitious glimpses of the captivating couple. The man had returned and was gesturing out the window. He sat, then caught Renee’s fingers in his. She didn’t pull away.

“You see out there past the spit? Yes, there, perhaps a harbor seal?”

Renee considered the seascape, then extricated her fingers and tasted her salad with a shrug. He ate with relish, fettuccine noodles slipping between his lips. Renee’s brows bunched a little as she noted a slurp from him, then she looked to the sea’s sterling waves. Her expression enlivened.

“Putnam, wait, see that? You are so right about such things. Or a sea lion…? Is that possible as well?”

Elle stared at Renee, then her companion. The man’s name was unusual–she liked it, thought it might be a family name–but it was her voice that surprised with its throatiness. There was a frayed edge to the words, like that of a two pack a day smoker, and it was louder than his. Elle had expected it to be refined, sweet to match Putnam’s gentlemanly manner, his careful way of enunciating. They had seemed like minor royalty at the start.

“Sure, and those cormorants there? They’re so hearty. Adaptable in all weather, yes? As one must be to thrive here.”

“As we all must be to just live, my dear. Most certainly to live well.”

And with that Renee gave up tension, worry or sadness, whichever she had brought into the place, and she transformed, her eyes a vibrant blue, her smile dimpling soft cheeks. She barely laughed–a chirp, really–but Putnam tilted his head and winked. Then each gave full attention to their meals.

Elle tried to not stare further. She scolded herself for being so hyper-observant and letting her thoughts become meddlesome. It was a bad habit. She just loved to study people, wanted to know what made them yearn and hope and care. What motivated their effort to really live their lives. Or not. Was Putnam a retired small-town doctor who married this younger woman of good standing, both stylish and attentive, a few years after a first wife had died? Or was she someone who had long been independent and given in to his persistence only after he visited her numerous times at a classy lounge where she sang jazz standards with a sultry alto? Perhaps they had fallen on hard times lately and this good meal was a blessing.

Renee reached across the table. Touched the edge of his white shirt sleeve. Putnam raised his eyes. They said something indiscernible due to the shepherding of more diners to their corner. But Elle could see they had almost imperceptibly mended things, passed a hard turn and were moving on. Renee had given in to his warmth and consideration. Their conversations flowed to and fro and so, Elle suspected, did their silences. She wished the new diners would quiet down so she could hear the couple but knew she should stop. It was not her business, after all.

Her own dinner was finished. She signaled for coffee and a dessert menu. Why not tiramisu? She had never tasted the extravagant coffee-flavored, cheese and chocolate-filled cake. But tonight there was no Peter to caution her against sugar or calories. And no Peter to tempt.

The rain had stopped. Renee and Putnam and Elle all looked to the sea. Sunlight burnished mighty waves, sea spray like fine lace. Clouds fell apart, leaking cerulean sky though slate grey. The sunset would be noteworthy.

Elle turned her head slowly toward Renee, and the older woman looked her way. Their eyes rested on each other. Renee nodded once, perhaps to acknowledge her awareness of Elle’s scrutiny, then returned her attention to Putnam and the sea’s beguiling performance.

The next few moments were full of chocolate that lit up Elle with pleasure. She wondered if Pete would take a bite off her fork, just one, and admit its virtues. She looked at her cell phone, then dialed.

“Hello? Elle?” he said, alarmed. Bach was blaring.

“I was thinking. Could we take a vacation together this year? By the sea part of the time, by city another part. So we can hang out, share it all. For a change.”

Pete said nothing as Bach changed to Mozart. She licked the last of the tiramisu from her fork.

“Just when are you coming back?” he asked. “I’ve missed you. Yes, we surely can find a place we both want to be. I think…but how about home for starters?”

“Be there tomorrow night, early. Maybe Victoria?”

“Hmm.” He sounded pleased.

Elle paid her bill and left without a backward glance. The wind whipped and sang out, brought scents of sea creatures and sand and gnarled trees. Tulips, brave and bold, wore rain like jewels. She did wonder what Renee and Putnam were going to do but she longed more to leave them. She needed to make her way back home and just hold Peter.

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Weather and View from Here:Variable but Fair

I am not a seasoned traveller, the sort that easily navigates  the barbaric mazes of airports. Neither do I speak fluently many languages of exotic locales. For me, “foreign” means our cousin Canada. I have sung praises of the beauty there–boating through the San Juan Islands, sampling the delights of Victoria and Vancouver, coming face-to-face with bears in Banff National Park. But other than Canada, my explorations have thus far remained within my own country. The primary modes of travel have been car and feet. The last time I flew anywhere was in 2007 when a daughter graduated from Union Theological Seminary, and it took love and will to get on that plane even though as a young adult I loved to fly.

In September when Marc and I planned a trip to Virginia and Florida to visit family, my excitement and anxiety were contained by the distractions of daily living. I had been the one to bring up the trip despite a mild dislike, perhaps more accurately a moderate loathing, of flying ever since events in 2001. I kept focused on the final destination and the experiences we would enjoy. By the first of January I was checking weather reports and planning what to pack. My goal was to be ready for anything but not embarrass my husband with a surfeit of bags. And to be calm upon arrival. I considered the leftover Valium Marc still had after dental extractions. Or the natural kava kava, which I had used when I flew to and from my mother’s funeral May 2001. In the end Dramamine was secreted away in my cloth bag beneath books and magazines, just in case.

But the moment I get on the  plane I know it will be a good trip. We haven’t visited my in-laws in a long while and we’ll see two daughters, as well. I am leaving behind wind-driven, chill rain in favor of delicious sunhine. More crucial, we are abandoning work and humdrum routine.

So it happens: I peer out a small window. My breath catches in my throat as the plane rises smoothly into the sky: I am on a small adventure and anything wondrous and fine can happen. In an instant I fall under a spell.

The world looks kinder from above, as if all the earthly things have come to order. It is as though the fine raiment of the land is meant to complement the colors washed along the horizon. As we near Chicago and the sun descends,  amber beacons pulse across the rolling earth, while the sky gives forth a display of piercing white lights.

From where I sit the Big Dipper appears to be in conversation not only with a perfect moon–which trumpets light all the way to other galaxies–but also with the criss-crossed lines of city and town, the slip and slide of pale country lanes against shining rivers.  I wonder what magic things spill upon the land from the mammoth ladle above.

I rest my eyes on the fullness of the scene–how much there is to love when venturing far, how great the mysteries as we leap in the face of reason and then lilt within the far-flung dark. The city’s lights flare out like a giantess’ necklace on an indulgent bosom.

And the moon holds steady as the night spreads its vast velvety wings. The sky, bemused, opens to the watchful audience of the universe beyond. Lulled by night, face pressed against the glass, I watch the geometry of roads and tiny cars come closer, the plane tilting and sailing toward a better known world, yet no less extraordinary.

The story could end right here, but disembarking feels like leaving one dream for another. I am a space traveller cruising in for a pit stop.

Then suddenly, in Virginia with daughter Naomi, artist/wandering pilgrim, who has been to Europe, to the Caribbean and Iceland, to places I cannot pronounce. To our surprise, it is rainy and cold just like Oregon the first day, but on the second the sun joins us. We take to the sights and sounds of rustic Jamestown, then Colonial Williamsburg. Encompassing 301 acres, with 88 of the original 18th century shops, houses, outbuildings plus hundreds of others reconstructed on original foundations, this is the past vibrant within the present.  We stroll Duke of Gloucester Street and stop to chat with the Shoemaker, whose supple leather shoes are meticulously hand-made for a man of more or less means in the 1700s. We visit the Weaver and learn about beetles from South America that provide the brilliant red that dye the wool the women spin. Then off to the Magazine and Guardhouse where I come upon not only rifles and muskets but a Hatmaker sitting on a bench. He is proud of his work, and informs us that he also can make shoes and is a blacksmith. At Chownings Tavern I enjoy tasty chicken stew and corn bread, then we’re off to see the Cabinetmaker–would I be interested in a lustrous $20,000 harpsichord? It plays beautifully as I run my fingers over the keys.

And so it continues as the sun illumines all. The Silversmith, the Cooper, the Milliner and Tailor. Every shop and house we enter or wonder over holds the hint of lives lived long ago and well, of trials, aspirations, romance. It is like walking hand-in-hand with those who planned and built the bustling town, had heady political discussions, reared families, fought illness and loss.

I stand before the Governor’s Palace and swear I hear the rustle of silk, the resonant ring of crystal from deep within the rooms. Other women and men have shared lives full of pleasure, burdensome with toil. They watch us from the shadows as the bright wind runs through bare treetops and stirs my hair.

On the last night, we three gather at the hotel suite and partake of a redolent beef stew that  Naomi started in the Crockpot in the morning. It is reminsicent of the recipe I often made for our large family a lifetime ago. But it tastes richer. Better seasoned. More tender.

Then: Florida.

Another place altogether with its shy manatees and ubiquitous palms, alligators common and fierce,  lumbering turtles. It’s flat, subtropical landscape is strange enough to me to be a foreign land and yet the warmth of the breezes and languor of the people are a welcome respite after chilly Virginia. And there is family again to welcome us, daughter Cait, who is a minister, and my in-laws. We mosey through Matlacha’s gaily painted shops, then enjoy lunch and melt-in-your-mouth pies on the shore of Pine Island.

The water is a glittering blue that changes hue from moment to moment, place to place. There are boats to watch and piers to walk, along which the sea ever beckons with it powerful rhythms and brilliant depths. The sun moves over skin like warm honey, then removes itself with grace, an empress, bestower of rainbowed light upon the horizon.

At Beth’s, my elderly mother-in-law’s, there is much talk and music. Marc and his brother pick up guitars and sing old hymns, John Denver and Carol King, other random tunes. Their voices rise and fall as though meant to do just this together. Tonight Beth closes her eyes, taps out the beat on the arm of her chair. She telegraphs her love with smiles and soft comments. When she asks me to sing as well,  I am busy videotaping each moment, but hum along a little, sing a few phrases: “If I had a song, I’d sing it in the morning, I’d sing it in the evening, all over this land.” Cait nods at the hymns; my sister-in-law encourages our men. Laughter is generous as well. We are parts of a whole in that room.

In a few days we leave. I do look back. But the planes are still majestic vehicles that carry me through the atmosphere, over the worn garment of earth’s surface. I think of the millions of lives we are passing over, people working and resting, making love or devising plans, recovering from loss or creating something fascinating.

When we arrive in Portland, it is raining, of course, but it rains on top of rare snow. All this moisture keeps the land lush. Even weary, it feels just like home; we are happy to be here, as well.

The photos I study show me more than expected. Some are better than others, but each one tells such a story. Every familiar face is better known now. One trip took me out of myself, toward many others,  and back again. The views have been excellent, the weather everywhere, just right.

(Thanks for everything, family. My heart to you.)